Amidst the very public trials and tribulations of their first-team transfer operations, the other half of Chelsea’s two-track recruitment strategy is developing without much drama.
Five months after a summer that saw Carney Chukwuemeka, César Casadei, Omari Hutchinson and Gabriel Slonin agreed, Chelsea have moved rapidly to secure striker David Datro Fofana from Molde and midfielder Andrej Santos from Vasco da Gamma. .
They are also monitoring one of Brazil’s under-20 team-mates, Athletico Paranaense striker Vitor Roque, and went all out to land Palmeiras sensation Endric before the 16-year-old eventually opted for Real Madrid. Despite the complications caused by the UK government’s sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, Dynamo Moscow midfielder Arsen Zakharyan is also still interested.
Future windows will feature more talented teenagers, Englishmen and others from further afield.
Speaking to Norwegian newspaper VG when Fofana’s move was completed, Ivorian representative Atta Aneke said of Chelsea: “They want to sign the best young talent in the world and they have a very clear plan to make them the best they can be.”
This “very clear plan” has proven convincing in meetings with many of these potential clients and their advisors, despite the fact that one key aspect of it has yet to be implemented.
Co-owner and chairman Todd Bailey volunteered this during his extended interview at the SALT Business Conference in New York in August.
“The challenge at Chelsea at the moment, one of them, is that when you have 18, 19, 20-year-old superstars, you can loan them out to other clubs but put their development in someone else’s hands,” Bailly said. . “Our aim is to ensure that our young superstars can be shown the way to the Chelsea pitch while also giving them real game time.
“I think the way to do it is through another club somewhere – in a really competitive league in Europe.
“We really need a place to get our 18, 19, 20-year-olds to develop them in Portugal, Belgium or somewhere like that.”
Bale’s somewhat loose definition of ‘superstar’ aside, his intention was clear: to create a multi-club structure not for commercial or branding purposes, as Manchester City had done, but with the aim of managing the development of talented people more closely and comprehensively. the new players.
Bailly specifically cited the success of the Red Bull empire with Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig and others as a role model, and Chelsea’s subsequent appointment of Christopher Wivell from the latter club must be seen partly in this context. Chelsea’s other senior recruiters – Lawrence Stewart, Paul Winstanley and Joe Shields – also have previous experience of working in multi-club structures, often focusing on player development.
Neil Bath’s promotion from academy director to director of football development and operations further underlines how important nurturing young talent is to the long-term model Boehly and co-owners Clearlake want to implement at Chelsea. Shields, who has extensive and respected experience in youth recruitment at Manchester City, could bring significant value in this area as well.
Chelsea have also been active in their search for a suitable partner club.
Portimonense and Estoril, located in the mid to lower reaches of Portugal’s top tier, were carefully considered but ultimately deemed unsuitable. Ligue 2 promotion chasers Sochaux were identified as a potential option in France, but no deal could be reached.
This search becomes more relevant now that Chelsea’s youth recruitment process is in full swing. Head coach Graham Potter has already given Chukwuemeka real first-team minutes and regularly names Hutchinson on his match days, but Casadei, Slonin, Fofana and Santos all need high-level exposure to continue their progress.
Belia was well aware of the shortcomings of the massive loan system run by then Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo under Roman Abramovich in this SALT interview; even the unusually close informal relationship developed with Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem in the first half of the 2010s could not overcome the inherent volatility of outsourcing player development to another independent club with its own interests and priorities.
But that’s the reality Chelsea’s latest set of young players now face: an insurmountable choice between staying at their parent club’s Cobham base in a season where even domestic cup minutes are more limited than usual, or being moved into midfield. season and subjecting their career pace to circumstances beyond their control.
Such uncertainty about the development path has other ripple effects.
Players currently in Chelsea’s development squad and junior academy age groups understandably rate their first-team prospects, given Boehly and Clearlake’s aggressive spending to strengthen Potter’s first-team squad, which is largely focused on under-25s.
Without the confidence of seniors in a satellite club invested in helping them reach their potential, some will accept more conventional loans and others will not. In the case of the latter group, the trend to reduce contracts and force permanent exits, which became a more pressing problem in Abramovich’s last years, will continue.
Boehly and Clearlake have already stated their desire to avoid selling young talent wherever possible. Armando Broja was persuaded last summer to turn down serious interest in the Premier League and sign a long-term contract instead. Levi Colville was only allowed to join Brighton on loan last summer despite their interest in signing him.
The only notable new player Chelsea have sold since the change of ownership is Billy Gilmour, who was also at Brighton, a departure that was sanctioned only reluctantly after he personally begged to be let go. It’s classic private equity thinking: accumulate as many assets as possible with the potential for significant future growth and never sell low.
Chelsea’s stockpiling of elite young talent is a move that Bale and Clearlake hope will save them and perhaps even earn them 10 million in the transfer market in the coming years, but it will only work if they are provided with a platform to ease their way up. .
Getting the best young players is only half the battle.
(Top photo: Omari Hutchinson, David Datro Fofana and Carney Chukwuemeka; all Getty Images)